Every year, thousands of people die due to rabies, a deadly but preventable disease. In more than 99% of all human cases, the virus is transmitted by dogs.
As a result, many governments react to rabies outbreaks by culling thousands of dogs, but the evidence shows that this is an ineffective solution: no matter how many dogs are killed, it does not stop the disease from spreading.
The only proven way to stop rabies spreading is by making dogs our protectors. Vaccinating at least 70% of a dog population against the disease creates a barrier which stops it spreading between dogs. By removing the main source of infection, rabies in dogs and other animal populations can be eliminated and human rabies deaths vastly reduced.
WSPA is calling for governments to change policy and practice from dog culling to humane and sustainable mass dog vaccination. In 2012, we signed a cooperation agreement with the China Animal Disease Control Centre (CADC) to introduce advanced rabies prevention and control technology to China with the aim of avoiding the needless culling of dogs in the name of rabies.
According to a report jointly released by the Ministries of Health, Public Security, Agriculture and State Food and Drug Administration, more than 2,400 people die from rabies in China each year – second only to India. More than 110,000 rabies-related deaths have been reported in China since 1950. A scientific solution for the prevention and treatment of rabies is urgently needed for the protection of public and animal health.
A pilot program was formally launched in Jieshou city of Anhui province on 12 September 2013, and later in Tongzhi county of Guizhou province and Hancheng city of Shanxi province. During the next two years, WSPA and the CADC will develop and promote scientific rabies prevention and control solutions throughout China based on the achievements and experience gained in these pilot vaccination areas.
So far, approximately 80,000 dogs have been vaccinated at the three pilot sites, reaching over 70% of the estimated total dog population in the area. WSPA’s Red Collar team travelled to Shanxi province to meet some of the dogs and their owners – here are a few of their stories.
As we travelled through Dangjia village in Shanxi Province, the first evidence of our work was little six-year-old Xiaohuang, sitting quietly by the street with her brand new red collar proudly on display. Her 76-year-old owner, Grandma Hao, sat beside her, chatting with one of the other grandmas in the village.
Grandma Hao lives with her son and daughter-in-law, and like almost every other family in the area, they keep a dog to guard their home. It was hard to believe that this tiny animal, who sat calmly by Grandma Hao’s feet even as we approached with our cameras, could threaten anyone. But as a free roaming unvaccinated dog, like most of the dogs in the area, even little Xiaohuang could present a life-threatening rabies risk to local people and other dogs.
Fortunately, thanks to the generous support of WSPA’s donors around the world, Xiaohuang has now been vaccinated for the first time against rabies as part of our new pilot project with the Chinese Animal Disease Control Centre (CADC). Grandmao Hao – who thinks of Xiaohuang as her grandchild – knew very little about rabies before the vaccination teams arrived in her village, but now she is aware of the importance of vaccination.
“Recently I heard of the Red Collar programme from the village committee,” Grandmao Hao explains, “and [local vet] Mr.Bai told me about the threat of rabies to human and dog health. I want to say thanks to WSPA and CADC for providing free vaccination of dogs like Xiaohuang. In future, I will have her vaccinated every year.”
In Hedu village in Hancheng city, Shanxi province, we meet Grandpa and Grandma Yuan and their six-year-old grandson. With them is A-huang, a local cross breed adopted as a puppy seven years ago by Grandpa Yuan from one of his friends.
Grandpa Yuan is a farmer in the village, but his son moved to a different city to find work, reluctantly leaving his own son in his Grandpa and Grandma Yuan’s care. For families like theirs, dogs play an increasingly important role in providing companionship. A-huang is more than just a guard dog to Grandpa and Grandma Yuan – he is a vital part of the family.
“A-Huang is my grandson’s close friend,” says Grandpa Yuan.
We can see this clearly as Grandpa Yuan’s grandson gently tugs on A-huang’s ears. Instead of avoiding the young boy’s touch, A-huang quietly accepts this playful intrusion just as an older brother might.
A-huang was similarly calm when our team delivered his life-saving vaccine, but this does not surprise Grandpa Yuan. He tells us that A-huang is a true gentleman who doesn’t even like barking.
“A-huang will become healthy after being vaccinated against rabies”, says Grandpa Yuan. “My grandson will be happier and we will be happy, too. We feel relieved to let our grandson play with A-huang. And more importantly, we have a clear understanding of what rabies is and how to protect us and A-huang from it.”
64-year-old Grandpa Xing works as a gatekeeper in Hancheng city in Shanxi province. By day, Grandpa Xing guards the entrance of a local business, and by night he returns to the tiny apartment he shares with his wife. By his side the entire time is his faithful companion – a shy seven-year-old Pekingese named Huahua.
All of Grandpa Xing’s colleagues know Huahua well and almost consider her to be a fellow work-mate, patiently carrying out her duties without a word of complaint. We watched as she was expertly vaccinated by the team from the local Animal Disease Control Centre, as calm in their hands as she is with Grandpa Xing day in and day out.
WSPA and the China Animal Disease Control Centre are working together to demonstrate that mass dog vaccination is the only effective approach to rabies control. By vaccinating dogs like Huahua against rabies, we can keep them safe from ineffective mass culls and protect both dogs and humans alike from this terrible disease.
“Huahua has accompanied me for many years guarding the entrance”, Grandpa Xing tells us. “She brings much happiness and warmth to my wife and me. I can’t imagine my life without her.”
Thanks to your support, Huahua has now been vaccinated against rabies for the first time in her life. Grandpa Xing is keen to show us her new collar: “She looks more like a pretty girl dog with her red collar… well, you cannot see it clearly now. Her fur is too long. You have to hold her up!”